Pope urges ceasefire in Ukraine ahead of invasion anniversary

Pope Francis holds weekly general audience in Vatican

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) -Pope Francis, speaking two days before the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, on Wednesday called for a ceasefire and peace negotiations, saying no victory could be "built on ruins".

Francis, who has appealed for an end to violence in Ukraine at nearly every public appearance since Russia's invasion of the country on Feb. 24, 2022, spoke at his weekly general audience at the Vatican.

"It has been a year since the start of this absurd and cruel war, a sad anniversary," he said.

"The number of dead, wounded, refugees and displaced people, the (amount of) destruction and economic and social damage speak for themselves," Francis said.

Ukraine's ambassador to the Vatican, Andrii Yurash, attended the audience along with a delegation of Ukrainian officials.

"May the Lord forgive so many crimes and so much violence. He is the God of peace. Let us remain close to the martyred Ukrainian people who continue to suffer," Francis said.

Francis has rejected Russia's assertion that its military presence in Ukraine was part of a "special operation," condemning what he has described as atrocities and the killing of civilians.

A day after major speeches on Ukraine by U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the pope said: "Let us ask ourselves: has everything possible been done to stop the war? I appeal to everyone who has authority over nations to commit themselves in a concrete way to end the conflict, to reach a ceasefire and start peace negotiations".

He added: "That which is built on ruins can never be a real victory".

A peace plan proposed by Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy last year called for a restoration of territorial integrity and for Russia to reaffirm it according to the U.N. Charter, which Zelenskiy said was "not up to negotiations".

It also demanded a withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities.

(Additional reporting by Francesca Piscioneri; Editing by Bernadette Baum)